Editor’s note: The Scholastic Art Awards program has been recognizing teen artists around the US since 1923. In Nevada, there are two separate annual contests, one in the north and one in the south, so we checked in with one 2023 contest winner in each region. Las Vegas artist and critic Brent Holmes talked with Anorien Breathes, who attends Las Vegas Academy. Chris Lanier, a drawing professor at UNR Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, talked technique with Paloma Moon, a senior at Douglas High School in Minden. (You can read Chris’s interview with Paloma here.)

In Reno, students’ winning work will be exhibited at the Nevada Museum of Art and and UNR’s Sheppard Gallery Feb. 6 – March 3.

In Las Vegas, the winners’ exhibition opened at Springs Preserve on Jan. 28 and will be on view through March 27.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

—Kris Vagner

It takes very little to keep an artist going. For most, the act of making is a reward. A simple accolade, a little money, even a nod and a smile is enough support to keep most artists generative. When an artist is young, even the slightest support can grow into a brilliant career.

For 100 years the Scholastic foundation has been recognizing teenagers and their artistic development. The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards gather a broad swath of creative works from young people all over the nation and present them to the public. In Southern Nevada, students in Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties made over 1,600 submissions of visual and literary work, and 400 works were selected for exhibition.

Anorien Breathes is a visual arts student at the Las Vegas Academy, and her work earned a Gold Key Award.

How did you get involved with the competition?

As  part of a school assignment. But I think that they’re really fun to do anyway. 

What did you find exciting about the competition specifically?

I think it’s a friendly competition. And I think it’s fun to hear about the things that my friends submit and put your best work out there. And have it judged by professionals. I think that can be really useful as an artist.

What’s your primary discipline in the arts?

In school I just do traditional painting. But outside of school, I love to do animation. I’ve been trying out 3D modeling. So I try to do a little bit of everything.

When you entered the competition did you expect to get in? 

No, not at all. 

And were you surprised?

Yes. Yeah, I definitely was.

Can you describe the piece that you made?

It’s called “Unaware.” So, part of the assignment was to experiment with painting on fabric. I went to the store, and I bought a fabric that kind of matched the vibe that I was going for. I drew this figure kind of pulling out their organs, which sounds pretty gruesome, but I mixed it in with the fabric pattern so that it would look less gory. … I didn’t want it to look too extreme, I guess. But I still wanted to get the point across that that’s what was happening. I don’t know if you want like the meaning behind it or anything?

Yeah, what were your intentions with the work

The whole topic of what I’m painting about this year is the mind in the body, and the physical health and mental health. This piece in specific is about the way that we treat our physical bodies and how that can affect our mental state. The very specific meaning in this piece is the figure pulling their organs out as a way to symbolize not taking care of your physical body, like maybe not eating well, or not sleeping, or not getting enough sleep, not exercising, and all that kind of stuff, and how you maintain your physical body and how that affects you mentally. This person is not doing the best mentally. They’re very, you know, upset. And they don’t realize all of these things that they’re in control of that they could be doing to help themselves.

What were your feelings? When you found out you had you had you had gotten into the competition?

I was excited. Because I’ve entered in competition before, and I don’t really like to think about winning. I just think it’s nice to be judged in a professional manner. … When I found out, I was just really surprised, but I was also very excited because it’s something that I, of course, spent hours on. And I really tried my best. And this is one of my personal favorite art pieces that I’ve ever done. So it felt really nice for it to be professionally recognized as good. That made me feel very validated in my pursuit of art.

As a young artist, is it beneficial for you to have a group of professionals give you some accolades?

Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely super exciting. Because I have so much personal enjoyment, just from painting and drawing. Whenever I am drawing, I don’t think about it professionally. I think just, “I’m in my element. I’m really enjoying it just for me.” I didn’t even think about the possibility of doing any of this professionally or anything like that, which is silly, because I’m going to art school for this. And I know that tons of people think about turning art into a career, but that’s not something that I put a lot of thought into. So this is definitely making me think about what I want to do in the future with art.

That’s awesome. What do you want to do in the future with art? 

I’m still kind of figuring that out. I think I really want to move more to digital art. I’m learning how to do 3D modeling. Because I think that I don’t know, I guess I just think that technology is the future. And that VR is really exciting, for example, and that video games are cool. And I really want to do something artistic in that kind of realm. And I really, really appreciate what Scholastic is doing. The opportunity that it brings.

Photos courtesy of Anorien Breathes

This article was funded by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Posted by Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a wizened veteran of the Las Vegas arts and journalism scene, a lonesome cowboy riding the high desert who occasionally wanders in to communicate dispatches on the innumerable goings on in this thing called civilization. Beware his haggard stare and keen eye.